Hezbollah Too Often Under Media Radar

Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi’ite “Party of God,” is a terrorist organization with global reach. It often functions as an auxiliary for Iran. Its leader favors genocide of the world’s Jews.

Yet news media often downplay or even ignore these defining characteristics. Hezbollah’s role as Lebanon’s leading political organization, its educational and social welfare activities among the country’s Shi’ite Muslims frequently get top, if not exclusive billing. Why, when without specific accounts of relevant information, news reports have little value?

When it comes to Hezbollah, The Washington Post’s inconsistency in providing journalism’s basics—who, what, when, where, why and how—is not unique. It is, nevertheless is noteworthy. Before considering recent examples, recall that Hezbollah:

* Was founded by Iran and affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in response to Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, intended to suppress the Palestine Liberation Organization headquartered there;

* Carried out the bombing of the U.S. embassy and Marine Corps barracks in Beirut in 1983, which killed more than 300 Americans;

* In the 1980s and into the 1990s, was responsible for numerous terrorist attacks in Lebanon against Westerners. These included the 1985 TWA flight 847 hijacking and torture-murder of U.S. Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem and the 1984 and 1988 kidnappings, torture and murders of, respectively, CIA Beirut station chief William F. Buckley and Marine Lt. Col. William Richard Higgins (at the time detailed to the United Nations);

* Acting as an overseas terrorist arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard, Hezbollah was implicated in the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy and 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community building, respectively, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. More than 100 people died in the two attacks and hundreds more were wounded;

* Is believed to have carried out the 1996 attack on a U.S. military housing facility, Khobar Towers, in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 people;

* Was designated by the U.S. government as an international terrorist organization during the Clinton administration. Until al-Qaeda’s Sept. 11, 2001 destruction of New York City’s World Trade Center and simultaneous attack on the Pentagon, Hezbollah had murdered more Americans than any other terrorist group. Early in George W. Bush’s presidency, Deputy Undersecretary of State Richard Armitage called Hezbollah “the A-team” of terrorism;

* Was accused by an international tribunal of the 2005 car bombing that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 22 other people. The tribunal identified as perpetrators four Hezbollah members, including the current chief operations officer;

* In 2006, after several deadly cross-border terrorist attacks and shelling of non-combatant targets in northern Israel, another Hezbollah raid, under the cover of rocket barrages, left eight soldiers dead and provoked a month-long war;

*Reportedly acting for Iran, was implicated in a 2011 plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabia ambassador to the United States by blowing up a Washington restaurant and in a 2012 tourist bus bombing in Bulgaria that killed five Israelis and the Bulgarian driver;

* Again as an Iranian surrogate, fights to bolster the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in its civil war against Syrian rebels; and

* Is committed to the destruction of Israel and, if it can, as its leader Hassan Nasrallah has said, the Jewish people worldwide.

By their actions we don’t exactly know them

Yet media reports about Hezbollah chronically are inadequate and potentially misleading. The Washington Post, for example, continues to mix accurate and inaccurate descriptions of Hezbollah without, apparently, following any consistent standard. This continues to be so particularly regarding the words terrorist and militant. Terrorism is a violation of international law; “militancy” is so elastic a term as to be virtually meaningless.

In “Lebanese fight on both sides of conflict in Syria; Bloodshed back home feared as Shiites battle Sunnis in border area” (March 3), Post correspondent Babak Dehghanpisheh reports that “Hezbollah is the most powerful political and military force in Lebanon. It is also a group supported primarily by Shiite Muslims, many of whom back the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”

The Post adds that “Hezbollah has linked with Iran to form an axis of Shiite support for Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shiism, while Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have formed a grouping of predominantly Sunni powers that support the opposition.” The newspaper refers, in its own words, three times to “Hezbollah militants” and twice to “Hezbollah fighters” and quotes U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s mention of “Hezbollah members.” Specifics regarding Hezbollah’s bloody history or its genocidal ambition, and the words terror, terrorism and terrorist do not appear in the article.

The page one “Case hints at broader attacks by Hezbollah; In Cyprus, spying on Israelis may be part of long-term terror strategy” (February 27), by Post reporter Joby Warrick, refers to a terrorist scout as “the Hezbollah operative.” Hezbollah is “the Lebanon-based militant group.” It paraphrases a source as referring to the organization as “the militant group” but then quotes him directly to the effect that Hezbollah is “‘not just doing one-off attacks but is right now involved in a campaign of terrorism’ in part to warn Western countries against allowing military intervention against Iran.”

The headline itself includes the word “terror” and the article notes that “while the United States designed [emphasis added, apparently a typo instead of designated] the organization as a terrorist group, the E.U. continues to view it as a political party.” It notes that Iran is Hezbollah’s “chief sponsor” and cites U.S. analysts as referring to the organization’s “preparations for future terrorist operations.”

In “Syrian rebels put Hezbollah on notice; Threat to attack targets in Lebanon marks dangerous escalation” (February 20), Post foreign desk reporters Dehghanpisheh and Ahmed Ramadan write of Hezbollah that it is “the most powerful military and political force in Lebanon, and it runs an extensive network of social programs.”

They also note that “Hezbollah is closely allied with Iran” and that there is “a potentially explosive sectarian dynamic as Hezbollah and Iran are both predominantly Shiite Muslim while most members of the Syrian opposition–and the bulk of their foreign backers–are Sunni Muslim.”

The article, datelined Beirut, refers once to “Hezbollah fighters” and three times to “Hezbollah militants.” It does not remind readers that the United States (not to mention Canada, Israel, The Netherlands and other countries) have designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Terrorism, under U.S. law, is a crime involving the threat or use of force against non-combatants to influence larger audiences and governments in pursuit of ideological, religious, economic or other goals.

The Post does not mention (it rarely does) that Hezbollah violates U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, adoption of which helped end the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel war in Lebanon. The resolution called for the disarmament of all non-governmental Lebanese paramilitaries. It was aimed specifically at Hezbollah, the only large, remaining extra-legal militia in the country.

In “U.S. steps up pressure on Europe about Hezbollah,” (February 6) by diplomatic correspondent Anne Gearan, The Post does remind readers that “the United States labeled Hezbollah a terrorist organization 1997, which bars the group from using U.S. banks and prohibits most diplomat contact.”

The story’s lead says “the Obama administration sought … to increase pressure on Europe to brand Hezbollah a terrorist group after the Bulgarian government implicated the militants in a fatal attack on Israeli tourists last summer [emphasis added].” Terrorists murder noncombatants, militants killed Israeli tourists; is that the distinction The Post is making? Or is it implicitly equating terrorists with militants? If so, why use the vague, elastically defined “militant” at all regarding an obvious act of terrorism?

The article refers twice to “Hezbollah’s military wing” and, two sentences later, to “the allegation of a direct Hezbollah terror campaign on European soil … .” It reports that “the E.U. has resisted past U.S. and Israeli entreaties to designate Hezbollah a terrorist group” and that several European Union member nations “have argued … that Hezbollah is a political and military organization and that a blanket terrorism designation could be counterproductive.”

The Post also quotes Secretary of State John Kerry referring to Hezbollah as a “terrorist group” and Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) to “terrorism by Hezbollah.”

Politics as terrorism by other means

Another page one Post report, “Iran-tied group is on rise in Iraq; Former Militants Enter Politics; Organization touts its attacks on U.S. forces” (February 19), by Post correspondent Liz Sly, details the growth of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, the League of the Righteous, in Iraq. It reports that “the group’s chief officers have returned from exile in Iran, and they have set about opening a string of political offices, establishing a social services program to aid widows and orphans, and launching a network of religious schools, echoing the methods and structures of one of its close allies, the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah.” The article says Asaib Ahl al-Haq is trying to “rebrand” itself to “enter the political mainstream.”

U.S. officials previously “portrayed the group as an Iranian attempt to create an Iraqi version of Hezbollah, which successfully leveraged its part in driving occupying Israeli troops out of Lebanon in 2000 to play a commanding role in Lebanon’s government. Building on its close relationship with Hezbollah, Asaib Ahl al-Haq opened an office in Beirut last year, and it is suspected of dispatching volunteers to fight in Syria on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad… .”

A former American official is quoted as saying “I see them first and foremost as an Iranian proxy. Their nature is such that I don’t think they ever gave up their aim of being an Iraqi analogy to Hezbollah. …They will always be a danger to kidnap Americans, conduct bombings against U.S. consulates or do other kinds of activities.”

What other kinds of activities? Additional acts of terrorism. On this The Post and all other news media ought to be clear. With Hezbollah context is everything. References to the political, educational or social welfare—the inevitable mention of “widows and orphans” subsidies—activities of an essentially religio-fascist movement that enable it to escape its history do readers a grave disservice.

To be fair, Hezbollah is not the only murderous Islamic fundamentalist group that benefits from such inconsistent, often sanitizing coverage. In “French hostages’ families voice fears; Letter calls for lull in Mali fighting to allow for talks with militants” (March 6) The Post’s veteran foreign correspondent Edward Cody writes of “the guerrilla groups linked to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) …”

French President Francois Hollande is said to possess an “apparent determination to destroy Africa’s jihadi network once and for all.” Included in this network of holy warriors who kidnap and kill French civilians are “Muslim extremists,” “Islamist fighters,” “Islamist groups,” “the Islamist guerrillas,” “AQIM and related Islamist groups,” “extremists,” “Al-Qaeda-linked Islamists” and “Boko Haram, a Nigeria-based Islamic group with extremist goals similar to those of AQIM.”

Not once does the word terrorist appear, even though, for example, Boko Haram’s al-Qaeda-like “extremist goals” have led it to slaughter hundreds of civilians, mostly Nigerian Christians, in the past two years. As for guerrilla groups, from Judah Macabee’s forces through Francis “the Swamp Fox” Marion and his units in the American Revolutionary War to anti-Japanese Filipino fighters in World War II, they are paramilitary organization fighting established armies, not against civilians.

The Post double-faults, reporting that “families of the hostages have voiced fears that their loved ones could be executed in an act of desperation by trapped Islamist fighters [emphases added].” Only governments exercising legitimate authority can, after arrest and trial according to due process, execute anyone. A “fighter,” Muslim, Jewish, Christian or otherwise, who kills a kidnaping victim commits murder.

When journalists do not use words precisely and in context, their readers, listeners or viewers cannot know exactly what is going on. And journalism morphs into “content,” a catchall including not only news but also gossip, entertainment and even propaganda.

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